New Brunswick’s minister of natural resources and energy development says he hopes to release new targets governing how power is generated in the province by the fall.
“We certainly will publicly state what our goal is, the path we plan to get there and the timeframe that we feel like it will take in order for us to get there,” said Mike Holland.
In 2018 a quarter of carbon emissions in the province came from electricity generation.
In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, 51 per cent of power sold in the province came from renewable sources, up from 44 per cent the year prior. Under the Electricity Act, NB Power was required to reach and maintain at least 40 per cent renewable power by the end of 2020. Holland says he’s not sure the province will up that target through legislation.
“We will have published targets. The question is whether they fall within the boundaries of legislation,” Holland said.
Ultimately, Holland says the province is committed to getting 100 per cent of its power from non-emitting sources by 2050 at the latest. But he says a new blueprint for when and how the province will reach that goal is coming.
“I would like to see it come before the snow hits,” he said.
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That plan is likely to include an equivalency agreement for the Belledune Generating station. The province is currently looking to come to an agreement with the federal government that would let the coal-fired generating station operate past the 2030 coal-moratorium to the end of its life cycle in 2040, in exchange for equivalent greenhouse gas reductions in other parts of the power network.
Holland says an agreement is necessary to avoid rate hikes of up to 15 per cent.
“What we have to do is ensure that we continue to do this rollout, and we’ve done quite good at that, is to do the rollout of the renewables and the non emitting, but ensure that it’s done in a way that doesn’t significantly compromise the rate payer as well,” Holland said.
Cost is an important consideration for the government and the utility. In NB Power’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan, public engagement data shows that while New Brunswickers want the utility to be a leader in clean energy, they don’t want to have to pay for it.
While 84 per cent of respondent agreed with the statement that “New Brunswickers have a responsibility to make changes to help address climate change” just 30 per cent said they are “personally willing to pay more for clean energy.”
Still, others are calling for the government to be bolder when it comes to cutting carbon fuels out of power generation.
“We should be aiming for no fossil fuels in our electricity system no later than 2035 with most of those assets out of use by 2030, that’s the reality of the situation,” said Louise Comeau of the New Brunswick Conservation Council.
“That means investing through renewables that we own through our Crown Corporation.”
Comeau says the public expects action too.
In polling done for the Conservation Council by Narrative Research, 70 per cent of New Brunswick respondents say they want to see power generated from wind, solar and hydro, while just 11 per cent want to see coal, natural gas and oil used.
Nova Scotia recently announced that it will look to generate 80 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2030. Comeau says New Brunswick should at least match that commitment, or even move further for a target of 90 to 95 per cent by the middle of the next decade.
As it stands the province gets 81 per cent of it’s electricity from non-emitting sources, stacking the 51 per cent coming from renewables with another 30 per cent coming from the Point Lepreau nuclear plant.
But there’s a difference in opinion on whether the province should focus on renewable or other non-emitting sources to up that number. Non-emitting covers renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro and biogas but also non-renewable sources like nuclear.
New Brunswick has already bet on the burgeoning technology of small modular nuclear reactors as a way to provide for its future power needs. A total of $30 million across two different governments has been given to Saint John based companies ARC Nuclear and Moltex for the development of the technology that the province claims could provide up to $1 billion in economic benefit to the province.
Holland says SMR technology is an important part of the province’s move towards net-zero.
Opponents say the technology is unproven and expensive. Green Party leader David Coon says the province would be better off focusing on renewables like solar and wind, along with storage technology to keep the grid functioning efficiently.
“What NB Power wants to do is bring on new nuclear plants which we know is the most expensive thing you can possibly do which is going to drive rates up,” Coon said.
“Lower cost green, renewable energy is the option we need to pursuing.”
The development of SMR technology has support from the federal and provincial Liberals. The federal government handed out $50 million to Moltex earlier this year along with another $5 million for NB Power to begin preparing for the installation of a modular reactor at Point Lepreau.
It was Brian Gallant’s Liberal government that first gave $5 million a piece to ARC and Moltex. Liberal energy critic Rene Legacy says the party still supports the development of the industry and agrees that it will be a crucial tool in bringing emissions down.
“I have a hard time seeing any way to go 100 per cent non-emitting without nuclear,” Legacy said.
But further driving the skepticism of those opposed to the tech: the first reactor isn’t slated to come online in New Brunswick until the early 2030s.
“We can’t have that. We have to do renewable energy and if by a miracle, small modular reactors show up on the scene in an affordable, reliable way in the future, than that’s something we can consider in the future,” Comeau said.
“But the next ten years is about renewables and efficiency.”
Holland says that the government’s push to eventually reach their goal of 100 per cent non-emitting power will include SMRs, along with further development of renewables like wind and solar and purchase agreements with Hydro Quebec.
The province says they’ll look at expanding the embedded generation program that allows NB Power to buy up to 80 MW from small scale energy producers.